United States District Court, District of Columbia
MEMORANDUM OPINION, DENYING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO
RUDOLPH CONTRERAS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Louie Nabong brings this action against Defendants, Ofelia
Paddayuman and Maria Cristina Louise Sy alleging that
Defendants lured Ms. Nabong to the United States with
promises of gainful employment, but then isolated and
imprisoned her, subjected her to forced labor, and otherwise
threatened and mistreated her. This case now comes before the
Court on Defendants' motion to dismiss the Complaint
pursuant to Rule 12(b)(3) of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure for lack of venue or, in the alternative, to
transfer the case to the Eastern District of Virginia
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a). See Defs.'
Mot. Dismiss (“Defs.' Mot.”). For the reasons
stated below, the Court will deny Defendants' motion.
March 2014, Ms. Nabong was living and working in the
Philippines when Ms. Paddayuman contacted her about potential
employment in the United States. According to the Complaint,
Ms. Paddayuman offered to employ Ms. Nabong in the United
States as an “in-home caregiver of [Ms.
Paddayuman's] two grandchildren, ” emphasizing
“that Ms. Nabong's responsibilities would be
limited to childcare and would not involve cleaning, laundry,
or other housework.” Compl. ¶ 16. Enticed by the
offer, Ms. Nabong expressed interest in the position. Compl.
¶ 16. Then, a short time later, Ms. Paddayuman informed
Ms. Nabong that she had been hired for the job. Compl. ¶
Paddayuman told Ms. Nabong that “she [Ms. Paddayuman]
would handle most of the paperwork associated with Ms.
Nabong's admission to the United States.” Compl.
¶ 17. Defendants then proceeded to secure a G-5 visa for
Ms. Nabong, which allows a foreign national to enter the
United States as a domestic or personal employee of a foreign
employee of an international organization working in the
United States under a G-4 visa. Compl. ¶ 18;
See Dep't of State, Visas for Employees of
International Organizations and NATO,
Although Ms. Nabong was consistently told that she would be
working for Ms. Paddayuman, throughout the visa paperwork
process, Ms. Paddayuman instructed Ms. Nabong to identify Ms.
Sy, a World Bank Group employee with a G-4 visa, as her
employer both “on the visa” and “during
[an] interview with United States embassy officials.”
Compl. ¶¶ 18-20. Ms. Paddayuman also provided Ms.
Nabong with an employment contract prepared on a World Bank
template that identified Ms. Sy as Ms. Nabong's
prospective employer. See Compl. ¶ 22; Compl.
Ex. 3, ECF No. 1-3. According to the Complaint, “the
preparation of Plaintiffs' immigration and employment
documents, application for and processing of Plaintiffs'
G-5 visa, and [Ms.] Paddayuman's communications with [Ms.
Nabong] regarding her employment and move to the United
States occurred at the International Finance Corporation, a
member organization of the World Bank Group, in Washington,
D.C.” Compl. ¶ 8.
February 21, 2014, Ms. Nabong received a G-5 visa and, one
month later, arrived in the United States. See
Compl. ¶¶ 18, 23. Ms. Nabong then went to live with
and work for Ms. Paddayuman at Ms. Paddayuman's home in
Burke, Virginia. See Compl. ¶¶ 9-10. Ms.
Nabong alleges, however, that over the course of her
employment, Ms. Paddayuman held Ms. Nabong captive through
coercion and intimidation and forced her to work long hours
performing housework beyond which she had originally agreed
under inhumane conditions and without adequate pay.
See Compl. ¶¶ 24-47. This treatment
persisted for more than a month when, on May 6, 2014, a
special agent from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
removed Ms. Nabong from the home. See Compl. ¶
March 6, 2017, Ms. Nabong commenced this suit against both
Ms. Paddayuman and Ms. Sy asserting several claims under the
Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act
(“TVPRA”), the Fair Labor Standards Act, Virginia
labor laws, and common law claims for fraudulent
misrepresentation, breach of contract, and unjust enrichment.
See Compl. ¶¶ 55-119. Defendants responded
to Ms. Nabong's complaint by moving to dismiss for lack
of venue under Rule 12(b)(3) of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure or, in the alternative, to transfer the case to the
Eastern District of Virginia pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
1406(a). See generally Defs.' Mot.
motion to dismiss for improper venue, the plaintiff bears the
burden of demonstrating “proper venue with respect to
each cause of action and each [defendant].”
Lamont v. Haig, 590 F.2d 1124, 1135 (D.C. Cir.
1978); see also Stebbins v. Nationwide Mut. Ins.
Co., 757 F.2d 364, 366 (D.C. Cir. 1985) (“We are
also puzzled by the district court's order because it
does not address separately why venue is improper as to each
of the three employment discrimination claims advanced by
[the plaintiff].”). But, unless contradicted by
evidence, “a court should accept the plaintiff's
well-pled factual allegations as true, resolve any factual
conflicts in the plaintiff's favor, and draw all
reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff.”
Myers v. Holiday Inns, Inc., 915 F.Supp.2d 136, 144
(D.D.C. 2013) (citing Hunter v. Johanns, 517
F.Supp.2d 340, 343 (D.D.C. 2007)). However, the court need
not accept a plaintiff's legal conclusions as true.
See 2215 Fifth St. Assocs. v. U-Haul Int'l,
Inc., 148 F.Supp.2d 50, 54 (D.D.C. 2001). If a court
finds that venue is improper, it must dismiss the case or, in
the interests of justice, transfer the case to a proper
venue. See 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a).
Ms. Nabong claims that venue is proper in the District of
Columbia under 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b)(2), which is often
referred to as the “transactional venue”
provision. See 14D Charles Alan Wright et
al., Federal Practice and Procedure § 3806
(4th ed. 2017). Section 1391(b)(2) provides that “a
civil action may be brought in . . . a judicial district in
which a substantial part of the events or omissions giving
rise to the claim occurred, or a substantial part of property
that is the subject of the action is situated.” 28
U.S.C. § 1391(b)(2). “This section does not
require a plaintiff to bring suit in a district where every
event that supports an element of the claim occurred; rather,
it merely requires a plaintiff to show that some considerable
portion of the events occurred in their chosen forum.”
Maysaroh Am. Arab Commc'ns & Translation Ctr.,
LLC, 51 F.Supp.3d 88, 93 (D.D.C. 2014) (citing
Modaressi v. Vedadi, 441 F.Supp.2d 51, 57 (D.D.C.
2006)). In analyzing transactional venue, this Court must
assess each of Ms. Nabong's claims individually and
ascertain the facts that have “operative
significance.” See e.g., Lamont v.
Haig, 590 F.2d at 1134-35. For claims sounding in tort,
courts typically “focus on where the allegedly tortious
actions took place and where the harms were felt.” 14D
Charles Alan Wright et al., Federal Practice and
Procedure § 3806 (4th ed. 2017). For claims based
on contracts, courts usually consider “where the
contract was negotiated or executed, where the contract was
to be performed, and where the contract was allegedly
breached.” Id. But “the site of the
alleged breach weighs heavily in the venue analysis.”
Elemary v. Philipp Holzmann A.G., 533 F.Supp.2d 144,
150 (D.D.C. 2008). Here, Ms. Nabong argues that “a
substantial part of the events” underlying her claims
occurred in the District of Columbia because Ms. Paddayuman
lured Ms. Nabong to the United States through communications
that Ms. Paddayuman made from Washington, D.C and because her
employment and immigration documents were prepared there.
See Pl.'s Opp'n at 3; Compl. ¶ 8.
to her assertions, most of Ms. Nabong's claims concern
the conditions under which she served in Virginia, rather
than the fact that she was allegedly lured to the United
States under false pretenses or that documents were prepared
on her behalf in Washington, D.C. For example, at least four
of Ms. Nabong's claims rely exclusively on the allegation
that Defendants failed to adequately pay Ms. Nabong for her
work in Virginia. See generally Compl. (Count Six
(Fair Labor Standards Act violations, 29 U.S.C. §§
206, 207, 216(b)), Counts Seven and Eight (Virginia labor law
violations, Va. Code Ann. §§ 40.1-28.10,
40.1-28.12, 40.1-29), Count Ten (unjust enrichment)).
Likewise, at least three of Ms. Nabong's claims under the
TVPRA concern only the circumstances under which she labored
in Virginia, which will succeed or fail on the merits
regardless of any acts performed or events that occurred in
the District. See generally Compl. (Count One
(peonage, 18 U.S.C. § 1581, 1595), Count Two (sale into
involuntary servitude, 18 U.S.C. §§ 1584-85), and
Count Three (forced labor, 18 U.S.C. § 1589). Compl.
¶ 118. And while Ms. Nabong premises her breach of
contract claim on a written document that she claims
Defendants created in the District, see Compl.
¶¶ 8, 116, Ms. Nabong does not allege that it was
executed in the District. Indeed, Ms. Nabong claims that she had
never seen the purported contract prior to her interview with
U.S. officials and that her signature on that document was
forged. Compl. ¶ 22. Moreover, even it contemplates
performance in Virginia and the breaches that Ms. Nabong
alleges- Ms. Paddayuman's failure to sufficiently
compensate Ms. Nabong and the “inhumane working hours
and working conditions”-all occurred there. Thus,
§1391(b)(2) in and of itself provides no basis for venue
in the District of Columbia for any of these claims. See
e.g., Maysaroh, 51 F.Supp.3d 88, 93 (D.D.C.
2014) (holding that “the events that occurred in the
District of Columbia [were] not a substantial part of the
events that [gave] rise to plaintiff's claims of human
trafficking for forced labor, unpaid minimum and overtime
wages, and false imprisonment” when “[i]t was in
Virginia that defendants allegedly forced plaintiff to work
“[s]even days a week, from approximately 7:00 a.m. to
12:00 a.m.” for approximately seven months, amounting
to 5, 232 working hours”); Abramoff v. Shake
Consulting, L.L.C., 288 F.Supp.2d 1, 2-5 (D.D.C. 2003)
(holding that venue in the District of Columbia was improper
because “although the plaintiff signed the agreement in
the District of Columbia, the ‘events with operative
significance' took place in Florida: the agreement
contemplated performance in Florida, and the alleged breach .
. . took place in Florida”).
are, however, at least some claims for which venue is proper
in the District. For example, Ms. Nabong alleges that
Defendants' actions constituted forced-labor trafficking,
in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1590. That statute prohibits
the “knowing recruit[ment]” of “any
person for labor or services” that violate other
provisions of the TVPRA. See 18 U.S.C. § 1590.
Although the violative labor allegedly took place in
Virginia, Ms. Nabong alleges that Defendants' efforts to
recruit Ms. Nabong took place in the District of Columbia.
See Compl. ¶ 8 ([T]he preparation of [Ms.
Nabong's] immigration and employment documents . . . and
[Ms.] Paddayuman's communications with Plaintiff
regarding her employment and move to the United States
occurred . . . in Washington, D.C.”). Defendants
present no evidence to contradict these allegations and thus
the Court must regard them as true. See Myers, 915
F.Supp.2d at 144. These alleged communications also form the
basis of Ms. Nabong's fraudulent misrepresentation
claims. Indeed, Ms. Nabong alleges that, in these
communications, Ms. Paddayuman promised generous
compensation, limited job responsibilities, and reasonable
working hours to induce Ms. Nabong to leave the Philippines
and work in the United States, but that, in truth, Ms.
Paddayuman “never intended to gainfully employ Ms.
Nabong or provide her with a humane living and working
environment.” Compl. ¶¶ 104-05. It is well
settled that, when particular communications made to or from
the District of Columbia form the basis of a claim like
fraud, that the communications constitute a
“substantial part of the events” giving rise to
the claim and that, therefore, venue in the District is
proper. See McQueen v. Woodstream Corp., 244 F.R.D.
26 (D.D.C. 2007) (holding that venue in the District of
Columbia was proper because “[t]he communications
between the parties transmitted to and from the District of
Columbia were critical to the defendant's alleged
fraudulent undertaking.”). Thus, at the very least, the
District of Columbia is the proper forum for Ms. Nabong's
claims of forced-labor trafficking and fraudulent
§ 1391(b) does not alone provide a basis for venue for
most of Ms. Nabong's claims, she argues that venue is
still “proper in this forum under the doctrine of
pendent venue . . . .” Pl.'s Opp'n at 7.
“The pendent venue doctrine is an exception to the
general rule that ‘a plaintiff must demonstrate proper
venue with respect to each cause of action and each
defendant.'” Martin v. EEOC, 19 F.Supp.3d
291, 309 (D.D.C. 2014) (quoting Coltrane v. Lappin,
885 F.Supp.2d 228, 234 (D.D.C. 2012)). Under the doctrine,
“when venue lies for some of a plaintiff's claims,
pendent venue may allow the court to entertain other claims
that are not properly venued in the court.”
Id. “The key consideration in the exercise of
pendent venue is whether the claims originate from a common
nucleus of operative fact, because that test, ‘in
itself, embodies factors that bear upon judicial economy,
convenience, and fairness.'” Burnett v. Al
Baraka Inv. & Dev. Corp., 274 F.Supp.2d 86, 98
(D.D.C. 2003) ...